Amiga Technical Resource

Working in Antarctica

On the 30th of August 2010 I began a new role of telecommunications technician for Scott Base, Antarctica NZ, Telecom NZ and Downer Engineering. It began with a tightly packed four weeks of a variety of training before flying south to the ice on the 30th of September. The contract length of the position is around 13 months, hence it is known as 'wintering over'.

Below is a blog of progress and interesting events along the way, oldest at the bottom and most current at the top. Note that these are my own personal views and experiences which may not reflect the views of Antarctica NZ, Telecom NZ or Downer Engineering.

Diaries from the 2012-2013, 2014-2015 and 2016 seasons are also available.

Select month to view:
October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 March 2011 April 2011 May 2011 June 2011 July 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011

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August 2011
  • 28/8/11: Just over a week ago, the first of the mid-winter flights to Ross Island went without a hitch. That left us with two new people on station, plus a visit by the Antarctica NZ CEO who kindly delivered us some specially requested fresh food. The remaining five flights were due to proceed over the past week but a spell of stormy weather has pushed everything back by at least seven days. The forecast for the next few days doesn't look too flash either with more wind and snow in the pipeline. They've already canned the Sunday flights that were due to leave Christchurch today.

    Finally the second flight made it in and back out yesterday (Saturday) afternoon, decreasing the Scott Base total population to 13 while adding another 120 new people into McMurdo Station, which will grow to around 450 in the next few days if the weather plays ball. I happened to be there while the new people were arriving; it was especially daunting to see so many people in one place at one time. Had to run away as quickly as possible! Looks as though I'll be finally getting some long awaited parts when the freight is unpacked tomorrow.

    Partially as a welcome to the new people and partly as an end of winter gathering; McMurdo had another live music party last night, this time in their carpentery workshop. It was a bigger than expected turnout with easily 100+ people attending the event. As usual, our small Scott Base band ran a set of live music despite the departure of Julie just a few hours before hand.

    We're all welcoming the increasing hours of daylight. It's pretty much back to normal during the day now with sunrise at 10AM and setting at 3:45PM and gaining about 40 daylight minutes per day at present. The return of daylight has been rapid; barely a few weeks ago we were still in near permanent darkness.

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    As usual, the snowy weather over the week gifted me with some more shovelling work outside my workshop door. Apparently this has been one of the snowiest seasons for many years.

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    Russell in the D4 dozer; clearing snow by the hangar.

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    The rear of Scott Base, looking towards the south with White Island on the horizon. Still plenty of snow about.

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    We performed a collection of "unplugged" live music in the Scott Base bar last Thursday to welcome the new staff, to farewell those leaving and for Lou, the Antarctica NZ CEO as thanks for bringing us the delicious fresh food. The cardboard cut-out of Julie (centre rear) was used on stage during our performance at McMurdo Station last night because Julie flew back to NZ yesterday afternoon. I don't think the Americans were fooled by our 3 piece + 1.

  • 17/8/11: The sun is now officially in the sky at mid-day, not that we'll actually see it for a couple more days due to the terrain. Still looking pretty nice though.

    Last Saturday was the "last dinner together" before we have a bit of a change in staff early next week. Will be very sad to see the four them leaving. On the plus side of things, the CEO of Antarctica NZ is personally delivering us special request food items this Saturday, providing the flight isn't delayed due to the recent snow in Christchurch. We found it particularly amusing that the bottom half of NZ had 20cm of snow and the entire country ground to a halt. I wish we got the day off work when there was a tiny bit of snow outside!

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    Mt Erebus seen at mid day today, with a spectacular display of polar stratospheric (nacreous) cloud.

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    Another "almost sunlight" photo taken by Molly on the 7th of August.

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    After the delicious "final" dinner on Saturday night, our band played some live music in the Scott Base bar. We loose Julie (backing guitar) next week. Left to right is Victoria on bass, Lance on drums, myself (right) on lead guitar. Julie is hiding behind me in the photo.

  • 7/8/11: The return of light in the mid-day sky has proved to be a huge morale boost for everyone; all of the staff on station are considerably perkier. Not quite rays of sunshine yet, but there's plenty of light outside for a couple of hours in the afternoon. The first sun is due to rise above the horizon for just over an hour on the 16th of August, just 9 days away. A chart showing sun rise/set calculations for our area of Antarctica can be seen here.

    Since work has consisted mostly of documentation and more documentation over the past couple of weeks, not a great deal of excitement in that area. But a positive aspect was the completion of some 126 pages of handover notes yesterday.

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    The new pressure ridges forming on the sea ice a few minutes walk away from Scott Base. Photo taken at 2PM today on a nice afternoon walk. Beautiful windless day but a bit nippy at -33 degrees C.

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    A quick shot of Mt Erebus, viewed out the door today at 12:30PM. The rapidly returning daylight is a very welcome sight.

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    The snow storms have subsided for now, but there was a lot of shovelling work earlier in the week. The snow is so deep in places you can walk onto the roof of the building.

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    Another one of the many emergency exit doors that need to be kept clear of snow.

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    Three of the four Antarctic Heritage Trust staff only have another two weeks here before leaving on the late August flights which are rapidly approaching in a menacing kind of way. The photo above is of Ernest Shackleton's cooking pots which are being preserved before being returned to the historic Cape Royds hut.

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    One of the jobs this week took me to one of the USAP (American) communications buildings. Wow, I wish my equipment cabling could be so meticulously tidy and as well organised as theirs. They obviously pour a lot of time and dedication into labelling and structure to keep things running so smoothly. Sorry, no points given if you detected any hint of sarcasm there. But honestly, is no-one motivated enough to spend 5 minutes and $1.50 of cable ties just to make it a little bit nicer?!

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    Also had a job at the wind farm this week. The photo above is the control/display panel in the base of one of the 330kW wind turbines.

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    View from the top of Crater Hill during a job at our radio site on Wednesday afternoon.